San Francisco is known world wide for stunning views and hilly terrain. Some streets are so steep that more than 300 stairways exist throughout the city, providing access and shortcuts to areas difficult to reach otherwise.
There are the famous routes to Coit Tower where one can catch a glimpse of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and the now famous Mosaic Stairs in Golden Gate Heights. Although not as crowded as say, Lombard (the crookedest street in the west), these top stairwalks can be bustling.
Instead, grab Adah Bakalinsky’s stairwalk bible, now in it’s 20th edition, and explore some of the more quirky areas. The book offers up the popular routes, but many of the stairways highlighted are tranquil spots, used only by locals and known only to a handful of people. Most walks take no more than an hour and string a number of staircases in a neighborhood together, with informative descriptions of the history, architecture and flora and fauna of the area.
Together, families can explore the nooks and crannies of this great city. My family often decides on a route and picks a restaurant or café in the area to make our ultimate destination. Avid hikers, we love to take our boys on treks outside the city, often inspiring them with treats or the prospect of counting banana slugs. Some days however, we just can’t get out of town, but want an outdoor activity that feels like a hike. Then we reach for our stairwalk book and pack a few snacks and layers of clothing. Continue reading »
Beyond the sleek Silicon Valley exterior, there are many small towns with plenty to explore in this California region famous for technology.
If you’re looking for a getaway, outdoor fun, sun, and maybe some wine tasting, the small town of Los Gatos is a great choice. Set in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this affluent hamlet, with a Victorian downtown, is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living. As you drive into town, you pass Netflix headquarters, and you realize, this is perhaps where the 1% live, a notion that was confirmed at the stylish Purple Onion Café, where at 10 a.m., the place was hopping with expensively clad moms chatting and nibbling, post workout. The Illy coffee and yummy breakfast items made with cage-free eggs, local produce, and freshly baked whole-grain breads were tantalizing.
For lunch, a traditional Irish pub with Americanized pub grub, was a more down home option. C.B. Hannegan’s was bustling with business folks and families; the outdoor garden was so pleasant and portions big enough to share. The beer choices were impressive and International, with 15 on draught. Continue reading »
As I once again dig through bins of snow gear to prepare for a trek to the Sierras, I think about growing up on the East Coast. My mom hails from Upstate New York. That fact, combined with the brutal winters and my family’s enthusiasm for all things ski, skate and sled related, has shaped my winter wanderlust.
We are headed to a house, inaccessible by road in winter. Set on 100 acres of land, the generosity of the owners allows us to live out my alpine fantasies. We snowshoe or ski one mile into the house, carrying backpacks and pulling a sled full of all our gear, food and an occasional small child. Continue reading »
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We drove through Yosemite a few weekends ago. It was packed with summer travelers and waterfall gawkers. The major falls are glorious, and fuller than they have been in years. New, smaller falls have even appeared much to the delight of park goers.
As we drove through the park, out past Mono Lake, we were stunned by the high water levels and snowy peaks in early July. We laughed, thinking that we could even cross-country ski in some spots above 7000 feet.
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Sand between my toes, melting popsicles, chlorine-y or salty hair, ripe tomatoes, fresh corn, eating outdoors, thunderstorms and fireflies—a few of my East Coast childhood summer memories. The idea of fireflies, or lightning bugs, as they are sometimes called, is just so charming, and in some ways a symbol of a simpler time. No iPhones or email, no TiVo or Internet, just a bug catcher and a jar….
Fireflies are everywhere this June. My kids listen to about 10 songs, as much as I try to curate their musical tastes, they’ll have to discover their own style. One of their favorites right now is Fireflies by Owl City. It’s a sweet song and the lyrics are very uncontroversial. My husband is also hooked on an old TV series called Firefly dubbed an America Space Western, by those in the know. Add to that, a great little restaurant, Firefly, in San Francisco, that we love…and then I came across this New York Times article about fireflies drawing hordes of tourists in Tennessee. This was the antidote to fast-paced modern life I needed to read about.
Apparently, there is a light show every night at this time of year in Elkmont, Tennessee near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Folks gather at a trail head with camping chairs and wait for the Mother Nature’s ritual performance. Called “mind-blowing,” “a silent symphony” and likened to the aurora borealis or a solar eclipse, this is no small show. Continue reading »
The first time a friend suggested a trip to Sea Ranch, I had visions of seahorse cowboys and underwater rodeos. I soon discovered it to be anything but a SpongeBob SquarePants circus. It proved to be one of the most restful places I’ve ever been.
100 miles north of San Francisco, the drive takes a good three hours if you take time to gawk at the Oscar winning coastline. We often stop in Bodega Bay for a fish and chips or clam chowder lunch to break up the drive. This time, my seven-year-old discovered he gets carsick, and if you are prone to motion sickness this drive will surely bring it on.
Sea Ranch was a pioneering eco-community begun in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The connection between the landscape and the architecture is beautiful and certainly contributes to the serenity of the place. I dislike gated communities or housing developments in general, but this place really has captured the benefits of a uniform style with strong community ethos. The sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate wood-frame structures were inspired by the local ranches and are designed to cope with the weather and integrate well with the topography. Continue reading »
The Seattle area coffee is legendary. The birthplace of Starbucks has created a revolution in America, and I for one am indebted to the place. I used to cherish my NY Greek coffee-shop, take-out cup of Joe, but now I am somewhat of a coffee snob.
Brewed Awakenings, Roundup a Latte, Grounds for Perfection, Espresso Yourself and Mocha Motion are just a few of the catchy/kitschy names for coffee shops on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I love coffee, but more, I love the ritual of coffee and am a sucker for the drive-through. It’s still novel to me and is a treat every time. Continue reading »
As the snowmelt begins to pour off the Alps and wildflowers emerge in the meadows, I find it hard to banish thoughts of hiking in Switzerland. My plans for this year will focus on California’s Sierra Nevada and Washington’s Cascades, but my heart will be in Switzerland.
A few years ago I tromped around the Jungfrau region with friends, basing ourselves in the tidy village of Mürren that clings to a ridge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley with a front-row view of the legendary peaks the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. A year before that, with young children in tow, my father-in-law, wife, and I trekked the trails out of Grindelwald in the shadow of the Eiger. Both experiences left me wondering if it could get any better.
As everyone knows, it can always get better. These days I’m dreaming of hiking through the terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux region between Lausanne and Vevey. No, this isn’t alpine hiking, and the trail I have in mind will take only half a day to complete, but the area is near the top of my list of the world’s most astoundingly beautiful places. Continue reading »
Can you imagine having the Grand Canyon to yourself? No traffic to the South Rim, no hordes at the visitor center? Henry Shukman in The New York Times takes us on a long hike below the rim during the best time of year for exploration: now.
Why now? Because nobody’s there in winter, and because the sun is your friend, not your foe, when the temperatures drop.
But no matter the season, a hike to the bottom of the canyon is a challenge even for fit hikers. The relentless downhill (a full mile in elevation) takes its toll on the knees, only to force you to turn around and climb back up a mile to get out. But it’s the best way to appreciate the stunning landscape, with layers of rock chronicling the earth’s development, the oldest being almost two billion years old. And challenging as it may be, even an eight-year-old can do it, as Henry’s traveling companion, his son Saul, proves.
A recent October trip to Yosemite and Mariposa County, CA followed a huge rain storm. The robust waterfalls thundered all around and the scenery was more striking than I had remembered from my last trip at the end of July. Autumn colors enhanced the spectacular vistas and there was a crisp feel in the air. Not more than 50 yards from the trail two rutting male deer banged their antlers together putting on a great show. I had packed for winter; fleece, down jacket, hat and gloves. It was in the 70’s and I was in a sweat during the day; the weather can be so changeable. I was stressing before I left, worrying about whether I needed chains or not for the drive up; instead I swam in the hotel pools and applied sunscreen liberally.
My first night I spent at the Tenaya Lodge, right outside the park. The Tenaya had the feel of a Park Lodge, animal heads on the common room walls, giant beams and an outdoorsy style, but was considerably fancier than a rustic lodge. The bed was big and comfortable but unfortunately I slept poorly due to the altitude and a late night specialty coffee (decaf) that I suspect had more alcohol in it than I could tolerate. Elk was on the menu (which my kids were excited about) and I would love to take my family back to explore all the Lodge’s offerings.